The X Page: A Storytelling Workshop

Twenty Scones

by Thoko Hanjahanja-Phiri


I am at home. It’s safe and cozy inside. Safe because I am not getting rained on outside. The weather has been miserable for several days now. “The crops are getting uprooted because of all the heavy rain, which will not be good for the harvest,” I heard my mother say the other day.

Ordinarily, I would be outside in the warm sunshine playing with my friends in the dried-up backyard. Not today. Ordinarily, Amayi, or mum, would be having her afternoon nap. She loves her naps. Not this afternoon.

I am in the kitchen talking to my mother who keeps telling me to “hold on a minute,” as she moves dishes around, works the cake mixture, and attempts to wipe clean her flour-stained hands on a navy-blue apron. There is a line of sweat crowning her brow, which she wipes away with the back of her hand.

“Mum, how many scones are you baking today. Twelve?”

“Twenty” she responds.

Twenty? What a treat. Twenty delicious tea scones as we call them in Malawi (biscuits to you), which I expect to turn out a light golden brown. The rain on the rooftop startles me as it begins to pound harder. I feel the strong breeze which brushes aside the kitchen curtains, and a chill briefly creeps over my bare arms.

The smell of fresh baking wafts through the air, teasing my nostrils as I start to jump excitedly, ready to revisit the familiar taste of the tea scones. Before I can taste one, I
hear a noise, a loud tap-tap-tap noise coming from the dining room across the corridor. Being a curious Jane, I forget about the golden treats and push open the door wide.

To my surprise there is a blackbird pecking at the windowsill, a sound that is quickly starting to irritate my ears. The blackbird is not afraid of me and keeps making a tapping sound, even as I try to scare it away. The bird turns to face me and says my name quietly at first and then much louder. But instead of a sweet-tweeting sound, I hear a deep male voice calling out, “Thoko, Thoko, Thoko!” The bird’s face morphs into a human face. Just as this apparition starts to frighten me, I awaken from my dream to hear my brother, Tiona, calling out my name Thoko, Thoko, Thoko.

I reluctantly push myself over the edge of my childhood bed, no longer eight years old but a grown mother with two children. I open the door gently to behold a man wearing a black shirt and black pants covering his older dark brown skin, bearing two tired but kind eyes.

“Hi, big bro. Thanks for waking me up,” I mutter submissively, accepting his request to come to the kitchen, where everyone is waiting.

My sister-cousin who has baked a dozen scones—the smell that was teasing my dreams—offers me one to have with my tea. My eyes scan the kitchen hoping to catch a glimpse of my mother also baking but she is not there. There is a stream of countless relatives coming in and out of the kitchen, the central hub. It is a Saturday afternoon, and my mother should be having her nap anyway.

One of my younger cousins gestures excitedly, claiming that she took the last jar of marmalade, but I am distracted by the tassels on her black head-scarf swaying side to side as she speaks. I see a sea of black all around me. Almost everyone is adorned in black. I feel overwhelmed by the lack of colour and need a change of scenery.

With one sharp breath, I silently step outside unobserved by those near me into the fresh air outside. There is no rain this afternoon, but the angry, gray rain clouds are slowly advancing from the horizon. I step into the garden that my mother loves so much. An array of colours blind me—hues of yellow, red, and blue happily dance off the petals in the brilliant summer sunshine.

I am drawn to a cluster of yellow daisies. In this little corner of my paradise, I am reminded of why I am here in Blantyre, Malawi far away from Kitchener-Waterloo. One precious flower, my mother Daisy, is no more. She rests peacefully underneath the now dry, broken brown ground.